We finally did it — withdrew Anya from school and registered as an independent homeschool. It was a big decision, much bigger than pausing Kai’s kindergarten a year. I wanted to think about it over fall break, but Anya was growing more and more teary and bitter as the week after her test results came in and we had her IEP meeting. We were exhausted, and frustrated, and there didn’t appear to be an end in sight. Finally, I relented.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s any damage I could do homeschooling her that’s worse than her struggling for 12 hours per day, 5-6 days per week and still making mostly Ds and Fs. She has loved school up until this year, but she’d gotten to the point where the sight of her homework packet made her alternately surly and weepy — and who could blame her? If I can restore her joy of learning, even if she’s “behind” after the end of this school year, I’ll call it a win.
I signed her up for a mostly online curriculum that other moms of kids with dyslexia gave high marks, and I’m rounding out the lessons using a variety of resources. (I do mean variety. She’s studying Vikings this week for social studies, and I told her to watch How To Train Your Dragon afterwards and tell me what the movie got right.) I’m also working to catch Kai up on the things he’ll need to know for kindergarten, and also trying to get him excited about learning again. It sounds like a lot of work, but honestly this is a cake walk compared to what we were doing. And at least this way, I get to have a little fun with it.
That’s right: Theme weeks are back.
One of the things Anya asked when we were initially talking about homeschool was whether she could still do spirit week. Her school has themes for each day of the week of Halloween: Wear Red Day, Tacky Day, etc. Sure, we can do that, I told her. Why not? And then I realized that, with a little creativity, I could probably come up with other weekly themes that offer a bit more in the way of educational opportunities. Thus Pumpkin Week was born.
I culled activities from a few sites and board and compiled a Pumpkin Journal. Inside are prompts to help them ask critical questions about a pumpkin’s structure (Are there more creases on a big pumpkin or a small pumpkin? Are pumpkins mostly full or mostly empty? Can you tell which side of the pumpkin was resting on the ground?), practice math concepts (estimating versus counting the number of seeds in the pumpkin), and explore the pumpkin using all five senses (apparently the inside of the pumpkin looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds disgusting). Once they were finished examining the pumpkin, they carved them. We talked about the story behind jack o’lanterns. We’re planting some of the seeds to track the pumpkin life cycle. We made pumpkin spice play dough. Snack time brought us pumpkin cookies and roasted pumpkin seeds.
The pumpkin fun continued with story time; the kids, particularly Anya, have always been partial to Halloween, so we have no shortage of pumpkin-themed books. I printed out pumpkin math worksheets and pumpkin letter matching worksheets and pumpkin coloring book pages and pumpkin-shaped sight word bingo cards. I created a pumpkin-centric booklet that teaches prepositions and location words.
I put all this together in a couple of hours. I used to spend that much time each day just sorting out what work they had to do when they were in school. Add in the sheer amount of work they were assigned, and we simply had no time for related arts, for recess, for lunch. So I am very hopeful about homeschooling.
I have a lot of luck with activities that mix multiple subjects: Science and math and reading comprehension and social studies disguised as cooking and crafts and science experiments. I gave my daughter a printed chart illustrating how to load the dishwasher and told her to take a stab at it. Doing dishes as homework. She loved it. She rocked it. And she learned, without realizing she was learning it, how to follow instructions when they are presented in pictures, much like an IKEA assembly manual. If I had told her that she was being tested on her ability to follow directions, she’d have choked. So instead I told her to load the dishwasher.
But this week brought the true Halloween miracle: Kai came in, sat down, and did his sight words all on his own. No prompting, begging, bribes. And he got them all right. Thanks, Great Pumpkin.